It’s time to think carefully about “tolerance.” We’ve heard a lot about “tolerance” this year, especially in light of the election of our first ethnic minority president. But let’s think critically about this idea.
Here’s what Webster’s Dictionary offers as a definition of tolerance: “a fair, objective, and permissive attitude toward those whose opinions, practices, race, religion, nationality, etc., differ from one’s own.”
Now consider what that entails. If, according to Webster, I am “tolerant” of another person’s “opinions, practices, race, religion, nationality, etc.,” well, then that presupposes that I already have my own opinions, practices, religion, nationality, and so forth, right from the get-go.
But Webster’s definition of “tolerance” doesn’t seem to matter to some of our fellow Americans who like to preach about “tolerance.” Indeed, for many on the social and political left side of the aisle, there is a “new, subjective” vision of tolerance, that can more accurately be defined as “a permissive attitude toward those opinions, ideas, and practices that are presently deemed to be worthy and acceptable.”
Consider, for example, the election of Barack Obama to the presidency. While I didn’t support his candidacy and was appalled at many of the ideas he proposed during his campaign, I still believe — as I’ve written here previously — that the election of a black person to our nation’s highest office sends a powerful message to the world about the “tolerant” nature of our culture.
There was also the passage of Arizona’s Proposition 102. Arizonans, casting their ballots in a free election, voted to amend our state’s constitution so as to legally define marriage as being a relationship between one man and one woman.
Never mind the fact that a majority of Arizonans freely voted in favor of the proposition. That didn’t matter. For the believers in the “new, subjective tolerance,” the historic definition of marriage is one of those things deemed to be “unworthy” and “unacceptable.”
So in the face of Prop 102’s passage, it was time for the “new, subjective tolerance” advocates to single out and demonize a minority group – the Mormons — and seek to shame them and blame them for the ballot proposition’s success. Soon we had demonstrations in front of Mormon church buildings, because, after all, the Mormons’ beliefs about marriage are just “wrong.”
Obviously, the “new, subjective tolerance” is, well, subjective. And it is highly selective. And it often leads to irrationality, among other things.
But that’s not to say that the old, historic view of “tolerance” is all our culture needs, either. Indeed, even when it is characterized in historic terms, “tolerance,” as such, has limitations.
Obama, the very symbol of tolerant America, ironically illustrates the limitations of tolerance. As a presidential candidate, he pledged that, if elected, he would establish diplomatic ties between the U.S. and our nation’s enemies; and he would put an end to our “inhumane” treatment for terror suspects; and he would deliver a presidential speech in the capital city of a Muslim nation.
But since election night, our world has changed. Islamic terrorists have, once again, brought a major, global economic epicenter to its knees, with the bloody massacre in Mumbai, India, last month. Candidate Obama is now President-elect Obama, and he is now briefed on national security concerns that the rest of us know nothing about.
Now, Obama speaks about sending more troops to Afghanistan, instead of merely “bringing the troops home.” He speaks of taking a “strong stance against terror,” rather than about befriending our enemies. And he’s made it clear that there is “no timetable” for his promised speech in a Muslim capital.
Tolerance is most certainly a virtue. Yet there are some things that cannot be tolerated. And the living symbol of tolerance himself seems to be discovering this. I hope that the rest of my fellow Americans develop this kind of discernment as well.
Austin Hill of Gilbert is a host for Arizona Web TV (www.Arizonawebtv.com) and is heard on XM Satellite Radio. He is co-author of “White House Confidential: The Little Book of Weird Presidential History,” and is an editorialist for the national news and commentary site Townhall.com. Contact him via e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.